How to create an Apple Watch app of the year: Endel’s perspective

We asked Endel how they became the Apple Watch app of the year. Here’s what they said.

Behind every success story, there is always a crowd of people wondering, «how did they do it?». In this issue, we’d like to get to the bottom of it.

We’re sitting down with Slava Dubovitsky — lead developer of Endel, Apple Watch app of the year in 2020. Endel generates custom audio and video patterns based on users’ environment to promote focus, relaxation, or all-around positive energy.

The app made it big, but the road to success was bumpy — the team hit on the winning strategy through trial and error. We asked Slava to share his insights on what it takes to create a leading app in the digital age.

1. Speaking about Endel’s success, do you think it was luck or a clear strategy leading to predictable results?

Success would be only a small part of it. From how I see it, two main components determined Endel’s success. First of all, we introduced online music generation on a device in real-time.

For Apple as a platform, this approach generated high product and marketing interest since they are actively promoting Apple Watch as a more autonomous device in the last few years. The competition in this direction is minimal right now, while Apple Watch allows for this even within the existing limitations.

The second part of the whole picture is, of course, building a business relationship in a productive way. Our history with Apple goes back a few years, and we try to synchronize parts of our roadmap with them. It’s essential to match their product launches and other key events. This way, a product can stay in the spotlight and get noticed.

2. What are the top 3 must-haves for the product to successfully launch on a large scale?

1. Idea and value. You need to really understand what issues the product will target and formulate a basic vision. This part will and must adapt as the company grows over time, but this is the foundation. Otherwise, the product is likely to fall apart and will not withstand the real-world test unless constantly supported with financial inflows.

2. Networking. The ability to make connections solves a lot of questions and opens a lot of doors. I’m still amazed at how fantastic the guys at Endel are at building work relationships.

3. Communication. The ability to communicate product concepts to different audiences through multiple channels helps every stage, from pitching to investors to driving traffic through influencers.

3. Looking back, what would you improve in the overall process?

It’s hard to pinpoint certain steps since every milestone involves multiple team members’ contributions, and it’s hard to break down the process. Bumps in the road happen here and there, it’s just natural. I’d say looking back, I can only think of them with positive reflection.

4. What turned out to be the biggest challenge in the design and implementation process, and what helped you stay on track?

The main technical barrier was the launch of our app on the Apple watch. Since we use specific tonal frequencies, many of the limitations and bugs were difficult to get around.

The other challenge was that we didn’t have sufficient documentation for developing the Apple Watch interface. We used the interface from the first beta versions and we had to work out a solution through trial and error.

We did not give up, I suppose, because we knew, in the end, the goal wasn’t unattainable. We had to rush with our first version but managed to launch it in just one and a half months.

5. When did you know you’re invested enough in design, and it was time to enter the production stage?

It’s quite simple — the watch’s interface is minimalistic by default. We enriched it quite a lot with animations and interactive visuals using the UI framework we developed. At the same time, the engineering team was working on the sound generator, so the processes went on simultaneously.

6. How big is your design team and why?

We currently have four designers working on the product, including motion, graphics, marketing and UI. As for the quantity, we only expand as needed, which helps us keep the internal structure and processes organized and straightforward.

7. How did you benefit from the design? Amazon has a simplistic and flawed design, and they are still ahead of the game. What made you stay away from such an approach, even though it could work in terms of product success?

In essence, Endel is a design product, which means that it is an audiovisual design of technology that embodies circadian rhythms’ scientific theory.

Our take on design is not so much about UI, but the feelings we transmit to the users through audio and visual communication channels, helping them to concentrate, relax and fall asleep better. This approach fits everything from sound layers to animation on buttons.

8. Who determines the product’s success the most, the business team or the design one, and why?

That’s a rather difficult one since the concept of success is subjective. In my understanding, success is creating a high-quality foundation on all levels, which can then be organically scaled by the people who share your values, celebrating the goals achieved and setting the further, even more ambitious ones.

In this context, business, design, and development certainly complement each other and create continuous development resources at an increasing pace. At Endel, we managed to build such a foundation, and it’s safe to say we’ll continue developing the concept based on that.

9. What are the criteria used to select “The best app”?

To my knowledge, the selection criteria are not publicly available.

10. Which media outlets do you follow, Product Hunt maybe? Techcrunch?

To be honest, I’ve been really trying to filter the content that I consume lately. This goes for both social networks and subscriptions, so I mostly read about development and developers. As for the news, I follow several Apple-related blogs like 9to5Mac and the corresponding section The Verge. One way or another, it is still impossible to avoid the general news.

As you can see, there’s more to success than meets the eye. What does the future hold for the next generation of innovative apps? Let’s discuss!

Design director and co-founder @ humbleteam.com